Nancy Upper grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, without a television. Her family could afford one, but her architect-artist-cartoonist father’s motto was, “Do things for yourself. Don’t watch other people doing things.” Her mother agreed. Upper has put her own twist on life ever since.
As children, she and her older sister invented their own games, their own language, and their own stories. Their parents let them explore the woodsy neighborhood alone, but taught the girls vigilance. The freedom their parents gave them, and their trust in the girls’ common sense, enriched the children’s inventive minds.
Their parents encouraged physical activity as much as creative thinking. Upper and her sister swam, ran, walked, hiked, bicycled, played sports, climbed trees, water skied, ice skated, rode sleds, built snowmen, went fishing, and danced.
Their parents loved the fine arts, and their artistic lifestyle steeped the girls in the visual, performing, and literary arts. They encouraged each child’s creative tendencies — Upper’s toward ballet and theater dance, her sister’s toward art and fashion illustration — and they found teachers to hone each child’s talents.
Physically fit and mentally resourceful, Upper and her sister grew into self-reliant women, confident that they could achieve what they set their sights on achieving.
Decades later, at Brown University, Upper saw a secretary make an ampersand like this:
Always striving to be distinctive, the character showed her a way to stand out. She made ampersands like this ever after.
In 1988, Upper’s letter to the regional manager won her a job in the New England office of Adobe Systems Inc. The graphic design in Adobe Illustrator manuals and the ampersands on Adobe Type products spoke to her creative passions. When the company discontinued the job, Upper returned to her first love, ballet, but the ampersands stayed vivid in memory.
The next decades took Upper from volunteering for Boston Ballet, to writing Ballet Dancers in Career Transition: Sixteen Success Stories (McFarland, 2004), to writing for MIT. After leaving MIT, she assisted with PEN New England events, organized the Phi Beta Kappa Boston lecture series, did freelance writing, and helped to start the Boston Athenæum Ambassador program. In 2010, an art project returned her to ampersands. Mighty Ampersand’s chapter one tells this art story.
Suddenly life came together. In the ampersand’s posture, vitality, allure, creativity, and meaning were the dance, energy, spirit, ingenuity, and harmony that had shaped her life.
In 2016, Upper founded Uppersand™ to bring people together worldwide through creative ampersand actions that enhance the quality of life for all. Each person’s take on the twist strengthens our global connections.
Want a font of entirely ampersands? Saintjean, a 2017 release by the French type foundry Velvetyne, gives you 288 ampersands by designers from around the world. Saintjean continues German typographer Jan Tschichold’s 1953 stride through the centuries, Formenwandlungen der Et-Zeichen [Shape changes of the Et-sign]. Coming Together, the 2010 ampersand bouquet created for Font Aid IV by the Society of Typographic Aficionados, gives you 484 ampersands by worldwide designers. Adobe’s 1982 font Poetica, by Robert Slimbach, supplies with its letters, 62 ampersands inspired by 16th-century writing masters.
From September 2002 to March 2008, Vertigo (an imprint of DC Comics) published the dystopian science fiction comic book series, Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra. The only male mammals to survive the plague that wiped out all others with a Y chromosome are hero Yorick Brown and his Capuchin monkey named Ampersand.
In 2010, University of North Texas design students Bryan Barnes and Jason Perez grew an ampersand from Liriope grass planted in soil and mulch. They called their creation Living Typography.
1,060 companies worldwide have the word Ampersand (but not &) in the company name. The combined net revenue these companies exceeds $301 million. Net revenue of the worldwide businesses with “&” in the company name exceeds trillions of dollars.
In 1936, engraver and woodcut artist Allen Lewis (1873-1957) envisioned, designed, engraved, and printed, an Ampersandman shaped like our favorite character. Lewis’s sandman found his way into the “serious and not too serious” pages of the New York Typophiles 1936 Christmas keepsake titled, Diggings from many ampersandhogs, Paul A. Bennett, editor.
On November 28, 2017, Football Malaysia LLP (FMLLP) signed an agreement with the sponsorship agency Ampersand Sports, giving the agency exclusive rights to market sponsorships of the Super League, Premier League, Malaysia Cup, and Football Association (FA) Cup competitions.
In 1911, French artist Georges Braque stenciled an ampersand onto his cubist painting The Portuguese.
In 2011, Cowan’s Auctions Inc. of Cincinnati, Ohio, sold — for $11,162.50 — a bejeweled, porcelain, ampersand-shaped teapot designed by Los Angeles-based ceramic artist Adrian Saxe.
Some early American gravestone carvers incised ampersands lying on their backs looking skyward, as though promising the deceased connection with the empyrean. A few of these recumbent ampersands inspired modern typefaces. An example is HWT Van Lanen, designed in 2009 by Matthew Carter for Wisconsin’s Hamilton Wood Type Museum.
Tech & Art
At MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Ampersand is quarterly concert series of art, music, and film.